Somerset wanderings

So we went for a road trip. To be precise, four adults and three children rented a car and drove down to a relative’s place in Cornwall, and all the way back. And on the way back, we saw Stonehenge. Rather, tried to see it, failed, and then stumbled upon it. For more details, read on.

The premise is that my wife’s cousin and her family are visiting us, and on Friday all of us set out to my wife’s uncle’s (same “side” as the visiting cousin) house in Cornwall. The idea of driving there was that on the way, or the way back, we could “cover” some tourist attractions that were hard to do by public transport, such as Stonehenge.

There are times when I pride myself on my planning. Such as this afternoon when we were driving from Cornwall towards Stonehenge, on our way back to London. On the way to Cornwall on Friday, I had noticed that the rest stops on the “M” motorways were much better equipped than those on the “A” highways (admittedly based on one fully sampled data point each, along with signboards). Our journey from Cornwall to Stonehenge had a short stretch on an M motorway sandwiched between two A highways. And I announced a slightly early lunch break so we could take advantage of the better facilities.

A post-prandial double espresso relieved me of the severe headache caused by caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and I presently took the wheel. Ten minutes later, I had taken a wrong turn at a roundabout which meant we were back on our motorway rather than motoring way towards Stonehenge. The wife, who was sitting next to me and navigating, proudly announced that the estimated time of arrival hadn’t changed due to my mistake.

I don’t know if the estimated time of arrival changed during the next hour and three-quarters, but most of that time was spent driving through the country roads of Somerset and some surrounding counties. There were hills and valleys and grasslands and sheep. We frequently passed through beautiful forests, which retained a tinge of green despite it being winter. The roads were mostly two-lane (one in each direction), and the sceneries kept changing.

Sometimes I like to describe my wife as being my “conscience keeper”, for she quickly pulls me back when I make the sort of mistakes I normally caution people against. For example, for the last six years I’ve been lecturing about cognitive biases, and I fell right into one of them when I said “I guess missing the exit wasn’t too bad after all, since we’ve been rewarded with such beautiful scenery”. “Well”, she replied, “you can’t say that because you don’t know what you really missed (in the road not taken)”. I quickly complimented her on how smart she is and drove on.

It was windy. Occasionally it was foggy. It even rained a fair bit. And the kids were screaming in the back of the car. But it was a most pleasurable journey. By the time we got close to Stonehenge, I thought to myself that it wouldn’t matter if we couldn’t see Stonehenge – the journey itself had been worth it (I’m not sure the adults in the back of the car shared this view).

And then it turned out that I had wished for too much. I have mentioned earlier about how I pride myself on my planning abilities, such as optimisation of lunch breaks. One thing I had failed to plan on, though, was Stonehenge’s opening hours. I had only seen that the place is open till 5, not that the last entry is at 3 pm. And when we happily drove past meadows of sheep and signs warning us that tanks might be crossing the road to finally reach Stonehenge, we were politely asked to turn back by security personnel.

Not having a place to park suitably as the wife tried to find directions home, I just drove round and round a roundabout. Directions found, the next order of business was to give some tired arses a rest, and to comfort the screaming kids strapped into their child seats. I quickly pulled into the first available hard shoulder on the A303, without waiting for a designated “service area” (with toilets and restaurants and fuel). By the time we had reoriented ourselves and pulled out of there, there was a traffic backlog ahead of us.

The road dipped and then rose again. Until the dip, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic. Beyond it, I saw cars go freely. It was similar in the other direction – there was bumper-to-bumper traffic leading up to the dip. After that, there was free movement of cars.

My first thought was that there was possibly an accident there. I soon dismissed that and thought there were sheep on the road (there were plenty in the meadows around). And then someone in the back figured out why the traffic had backed up from the dip from both directions – Stonehenge was clearly visible from there, and people had been slowing down to take pictures!

So here is one such picture taken from our car, along with a few others from our trip over the last few days.

Cousin-in-law-in-law drove the “home stretch”, which I didn’t mind at all since it was mostly along motorways which I find boring. I absolutely enjoyed driving around Cornwall yesterday (though we didn’t see that much of the famed Cornish coast), and the unexpected roads of rural Somerset today.

 

Turning Twenty Four

Today my wife Pinky turns twenty four. Thinking about it, twenty four seems such a long time ago. Or maybe not. I don’t think there has been any other significant age-landmark for me since then. I remember that when I turned twenty four, I got a feeling that I’d become old.

The premise was based on sport, and more specifically the Indian cricket team. Anyone who was twenty three or younger was referred to as a “promising youngster”. As soon as you turned twenty four, though, you lost that tag! Of course the story is different in different countries, and in different sports. For example, KP Pietersen was 24 when he made his debut. For England, he was “young”. Not for the Indian press, though.

Given that I faced such a step up (in terms of self-perception ) when I was twenty four, it seems like a breeze after that. Completing quarter of a century of existence didn’t trigger any emotion. Neither did going into the “late twenties” (when I turned 28) have that kind of an impact. I don’t know what it is, but it was when I turned twenty four that I suddenly felt grown up, and old. And I’ve felt that way ever since.

I mentioned this “growing old” to Pinky first thing this morning, but she dismissed it saying she feels no such thing. She also said that she’s really happy that she’s turned twenty four. She hates prime numbers, she says.

Antakshari

So while we were walking back from dinner tonight my wife and I decided to play Antakshari. And each time she started singing, I would instinctively stop listening and fast-forward the song in my head, trying to double guess where she would stop, and what letter that would imply, and search my mental database for songs starting with that letter.

Back when I was in 8th standard, I had challenged four of my female cousins at Antakshari, and had beaten them fairly soundly. Back then, Antakshari was considered to be a women’s game, so I was quite proud of my achievement (of course, I should admit that these cousins were younger to me) .

When I was in college, I would get into inter-hostel Antakshari teams even though my knowledge of Hindi film songs was quite limited compared to what some of the other guys knew. That was because the first written round of most intra-college and inter-college competitions was effectively a Bollywood quiz, and so I’d get taken for my relative expertise in that.

And then I remember this train journey in rural England (someplace in Kent to London Waterloo). Us three hardcore South Indian boys (Sathya, Gandhi and I; Gandhi despite being Gujju qualifies as South Indian having grown up in Bangalore) had thulped hollow hardcore North Indian girls (for the record – Bansal, Sikka and Shuchi). Playing Hindi film Antakshari! Must say I felt quite proud that day.

Thinking back, I wonder how much of an impact playing antakshari had on my Hindi vocabulary, though I would guess that hte answer is not much considering I never really got any of the lyrics. The problem persists. I still don’t “get” any lyrics, irrespective of language of the song.